Essence and Nostalgia of North Kolkata
The British arrived much later and established their base thus the city started to expand and made way for palatial mansions and edifices removing jungle and marshes. Kolkata since its inception has changed a lot and it is evident from the pictures of old Kolkata; nevertheless a portion of Kolkata still retains its old world charms and continues with the legacy of pre British existence. That portion is North Kolkata comprising of areas like Sutanuti (modern day Sovabazar), Jorasanko, Maniktala, Burrabazar, Chitpore, College Street, Shyambazar and Belgachia.
It is an intriguing fact and immense joy which North Kolkata residents feel about the lineage and that they belong to this part which retains its old world charm. Typical flavors of North Kolkata can be felt the moment a person or an outsider sets foot in this area; greeted by narrow by lanes, tram lines crisscrossing at intersections, transistors or radio playing melodious old songs or broadcasting news from a neighboring house, occasional tea stalls and sweet shops at every nook and corner and Rocks sweet shops (elevated concrete platforms outside houses on which people sit and chat in the evenings).
Old Mansions of North KolkataWithout a glimpse of all these flavors; a visit to North Kolkata will be incomplete. North Kolkata flourished during its nascent stages of the city’s birth and reached its peak during the British Raj. This part was considered a posh area where the noblemen of class and caste used to reside, i.e. the Zamindars or landed gentry who settled in Kolkata and earned hordes of wealth by doing business with the British. Interestingly the palatial mansions of the erstwhile Zamindars of Kolkata still stand as a testimony of their glorious past although some lie in ruins due to lack of maintenance and money.
In those days Durga Puja was a grand festival and these noble families used to celebrate it with grandeur and though the glitter has diminished, travel companies still conduct tours during Durga Puja (still held in these household premises) to the old houses in North Kolkata. For example, Sovabazar Rajbari, Pathuriaghata Ghosh Bari, Mallick Bari, Chatubabu Latubabur Bari, Laha Bari, Shibkrishna Dawn Bari, Hathkhola Dutta Bari and Darjeepara Mitra Bari are some of the oldest houses in North Kolkata, all over 220-250 years old and the successors still reside in these mansions. Some of these mansions are now used commercially for photo shoots, movie sets and ad commercials. On weekends it is a custom of the local boys to play cricket and outdoor games in the bylanes of North Kolkata.
North Kolkata was also famous for housing personalities and great thinkers like Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda and Girish Ghosh. Jorasanko Thakurbari where the Bard lived and penned down endless priceless stories and songs and poems, Swami Vivekananda’s ancestral birthplace in Simla Street where he grew up is now a museum and Girish Ghose’s (theatre artist and disciple of Shri Ramakrishna) house in Baghbazar in middle of the street are places highly recommended on a visit to North Kolkata.
Jorasanko Thakurbari comes alive on the poet’s birth anniversary every year organizing day long cultural programmes whereas morning marches and processions are organized from Vivekanda’s birthplace on his birthday every year drawing crowds in thousands to North Kolkata. Also para adda (chitchat on platforms also called rocks) among youths in the evening is a must in this area to this day when people return from their workplace and educational institutes and share a hearty conversation over a steaming cup of tea.
Gastronomical Delights of North KolkataNorth Kolkata is also immensely popular for its sweetmeats, Mishti Doi (curd) and syrupy delights like K.C Das’s Rosogolla, Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Nandi’s nolen gurer korapak sondesh or mishti, Sen Mahasay ‘s special sweetmeats, Deshbandhu sweets and many more. Hence a visit to North Kolkata will be incomplete without tasting these heavenly delights as well as famous fish chops, fish and chicken cutlets served by two famous restaurants, namely Allen’s Kitchen and Mitra Café and Golbarir Kosha Manghso (mutton cooked in spicy curry) is very popular.
Lastly visiting the bathing ghats along the Hooghly riverfront is must during this visit as well as Nimtala Burning Ghat which is the biggest burning Ghat in Kolkata and houses a cenotaph where Rabindranath Tagore was cremated. The hustle and bustle of people boarding launches to be ferried across the river, the awesome view of Howrah Bridge from the riverfront and also rooftops of North Kolkata houses, homeless refugees taking shelter along the river promenade, langars being organized every day… it is a sight to behold.
Other attractions of North Kolkata are Coffee House, Thanthania Kali Mandir and Parasnath Jain Temple. Hence if you visit Kolkata, your trip will be incomplete without a trip down North.